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Intensive Care Unit Delirium



Type of Spiritual Experience


Number of hallucinations: 11


This observation has interest from a number of points of view.  It shows that the 'care' obtained in the Intensive Care Unit can result in hallucinations and delirium, there is also an account of the feelings of people who have had organ transplants.

Having been subjected to the 'care' in an ICU myself, I know the overriding feeling one has is of total physical and mental exhaustion accompanied by pain, simply because it is not an environment of peace or tranquillity.  In the ICU I was in they did not switch off the TV the staff were watching until 2 in the morning, not much care there then.

A description of the experience

Health (London). 2013 Sep 11. [Epub ahead of print] 'A post-transplant person': Narratives of heart or lung transplantation and intensive care unit delirium.  Flynn K  Daiches A  Malpus Z  Sanchez M  Yonan N  Lancaster University, UK.

Exploring patients' narratives can lead to new understandings about perceived illness states.

Intensive Care Unit delirium is when people experience transitory hallucinations, delusions or paranoia in the Intensive Care Unit and little is known about how this experience affects individuals who have had a heart or lung transplant.

A total of 11 participants were recruited from two heart and lung transplant services and were invited to tell their story of transplant and Intensive Care Unit delirium.

A narrative analysis was conducted and the findings were presented as a shared story. This shared story begins with death becoming prominent before the transplant: 'you live all the time with Mr Death on your shoulder'. Following the operation, death permeates all aspects of dream worlds, as dreams in intensive care 'tunes into the subconscious of your fears'. The next part of the shared story offers hope of restitution; however, this does not last as reality creeps in: 'I thought it was going to be like a miracle cure'.

Finally, the restitution narrative is found to be insufficient and individuals differ in the extent to which they can achieve resolution. The societal discourse of a transplant being a 'gift', which gives life, leads to internalised responsibility for the 'success' or 'failure' of the transplant. Participants describe how their experiences impact their sense of self: 'a post-transplant person'. The clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

PMID: 24026357

The source of the experience


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